- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 6, 2002

Despite what the calendar says, you know the summer music season has started because of one simple thing: The festivals have fledged. This weekend marks the return of the popular Potomac Celtic Festival, one of the largest of its kind in the country. In Fairfax, the Celebrate Fairfax Festival presents three days of music on 10 stages. In the District, Coca-Cola's DC Sessions highlights its inaugural season with a performance by the Pat McGee band.
"We are passionate about all things Celtic," says Barbara Ryan, co-founder of both the Potomac Celtic Music Festival and the pan-Celtic band Iona . "It seemed like a natural progression from the band to the festival."
Iona is just one of the bands that will be performing throughout the festival on nine stages on Saturday and Sunday. Other groups include Maggie Sansone and Friends , Andy M. Stewart of Silly Wizard fame, and the Battlefield Band . All offer their takes on the Celtic aesthetic. Iona is noteworthy because it tries to do it all.
"We do Irish, Scottish, Welsh, Cape Breton, Cornish, you name it," Miss Ryan says, naming most of the strains of Celtic.
"Our focus is to try to educate people that the biggest Celtic country in the world is America."
That means the group is as likely to be performing Cajun music as an Irish reel. Dancer Susan Walmsley can as easily do the Highland fling as she can kick up her heels for a Cape Breton clogging dance.
Like most festivals, the Potomac Celtic Festival is not just about the music. There will be storytelling, contests and even a beer-tasting tent. The festival has far outgrown its former site, the grounds of Oatlands Plantation, which was used for the festival from its inception in 1994 until 1998. Now it's at the International Equestrian Center on Route 15 near Leesburg.
"There's something for everybody," Miss Ryan says. "There's a family area and a big craft tent. Usually, though, the women end up in the shopping tent and tea garden, and the men head for the ax-throwing and the beer tent."
Underneath it all, though, is the music.
"You come up the hill, and before anything else you can hear the music," Miss Ryan says. "It just reaches out and grabs you, whether you are Celtic in brains or in blood."
Tickets for the Potomac Celtic Festival are $15 for adults and $7 for children ages 6-12. Family tickets for two adults and as many as four children are available for $42.

In its 20th year the Celebrate Fairfax festival is also a multisensory experience. It runs from Friday to Sunday, and the festival, a direct descendent of the old county fairs that had been held in Fairfax since the 1700s, features family and living-history programs, a tech center, and more than 300 exhibitors, vendors and craftspeople.
There will be some familiar names for music-lovers of a certain age. It helps that the '80s are hot now. Four-time Grammy winner Pat Benatar performs in her first live concert in more than two years on Saturday at 4:30 p.m. Twenty-four hours later, Cheap Trick takes the stage. The veteran band is working on its 15th album, and has four platinum albums and legendary road stories. The hard-playing group has collaborated with a diverse group of musicians that include John Lennon, Smashing Pumpkins, and Todd Rundgren.
Sister Hazel , the Gainesville, Va., band whose first single, "All For You" became one of the most requested radio songs in 1997, will perform Saturday at 9:30 p.m.
Celebrate Fairfax also showcases local talent. The Kennedys , Saffire the Uppity Blues Women , Deanna Bogart and Tom Prasada-Rao take their turns on the Birchmere stage during the weekend, while other stages feature singer-songwriters, local rock groups, and all-acoustic musicans, among others.
Tickets for Celebrate Fairfax, at the Fairfax County Government Center, are $10 and can be purchased at festival entrances. Tickets to the adjoining carnival can also be purchased.

Finally, there's Coca-Cola's DC Sessions, on the steps of the Smithsonian's Museum of American Art at 8th and G streets NW. This first of what sponsors hope will become an annual festival features four bands every Saturday night from 5 to 10 p.m. through Aug. 17 for free. This Saturday, the high-energy, acoustic-rock Pat McGee Band performs, along with Earth to Andy , RANA and Smit Haus .
Four bands for free? That's probably the best way to start the summer.

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